Women’s basketball NEC tournament preview: Red Flash provide the biggest threat in RMU title defense

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Women’s basketball NEC tournament preview: Red Flash provide the biggest threat in RMU title defense

Photo credit: Tori Flick

Photo credit: Tori Flick

Photo credit: Tori Flick

Photo credit: Tori Flick

Samuel Anthony

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Robert Morris University women’s basketball is heading into the Northeast Conference tournament not only as the defending champions but as the number one seed, carrying home-court advantage throughout the tournament after winning 11 of its final 12 games to finish 14-4 in conference play.

Saying that the Colonials are the team to beat is an understatement.

But the road to another NEC championship and a second straight berth to the NCAA tournament still has a few bumps in it. Taking a look at the road to an NEC title, here are the toughest teams the Colonials will have to face and what they will have to do to defeat them.

(First Round Match-up)

#8 seed Fairleigh Dickinson Knights

Previous Meetings: Dec. 31 RMU 66 FDU 64, Feb. 27 RMU 62 FDU 48

This should be a familiar opponent for the Colonials as it was their most recent match-up. Perhaps one of the better overall games for Robert Morris this season as it jumped ahead early and never looked back, steamrolling to a 62-48 victory en route to clinching the regular season NEC title.

How They Win- For Robert Morris to walk away from this one, it needs to avoid what has been one of its biggest struggles all season.

The second half collapse.

The Colonials have been a team this season which seems to bring it all in the first half, and for some reason, they lose all of their momentum when they head into the locker room at halftime.

In its first match-up versus the Knights, RMU ended the third quarter in complete control with a 59-48 lead. But in a sloppy fourth quarter in which the Colonials were limited to just seven points, they barely held off FDU by a final score of 66-64.

Robert Morris has also shot a combined 61.3% from three-point range this season, numbers which the Colonials would have loved to see all season. But it is clear that the Colonials can take advantage of the Knights when it comes to having a variety of shooters like Rebecca Navarro, Anna-Niki Stamolamprou and Megan Smith being able to shoot from all parts of the court.

Overall, this should not be a challenge for the Colonials.

Matchup Difficulty 2/10

(Potential Second Round Match-up)

#2 seed Sacred Heart Pioneers 

Previous Meetings: Dec. 29 RMU 59 SHU 69; Feb. 25 RMU 66 SHU 56

Both teams have claimed a 10-point victory over the other, but these double-digit victories are deceptive as to how tight these games were. In the first match-up in Fairfield, Robert Morris got itself back within two points with five minutes left and the score sitting at 50-48. But late game woes on the offensive end stalled any ideas of an RMU victory and started the Colonials at 0-1 in conference play.

The second match-up was the exact opposite; Sacred Heart fell behind early, with Robert Morris starting on an 18-5 run and forcing the Pioneers to make the long climb back. And just like Robert Morris, SHU got back to within two at the end of the third quarter but was unable to complete the comeback. The Colonials were able to complete their rise to first place in the NEC.

How They Win- If the Colonials can limit the Pioneers defensively, they should not have any problem in a potential match-up with Sacred Heart. For most of the season, RMU has held claim to the worst perimeter defense in the NEC.

And it showed in its first loss to SHU, allowing the Pioneers to dominate from deep by shooting 9-for-23. Overall shooting, Sacred Heart shot 26-for-51 from the field as the RMU defense did very little to slow down Shelby Hickey, Hannah Kimmel and the rest of the Sacred Heart offensive front.

Meanwhile, in the second match-up and Colonials win, RMU held SHU to 4-for-20 from beyond the arc and 31.6 percent from the field overall, as the Pioneers were held to a mere 56 points.

This put the game right into the Colonials’ hands, as they were able to jump ahead early and use their strongest asset — their defense — to control the game immediately. If RMU can repeat its performance from last Saturday, its should be able to get out with the win.

While Sacred Heart will definitely provide a challenge, it is not the toughest challenge the Colonials may face in the tournament.

Matchup Difficulty 7/10

(Potential Championship Match-ups)

#3 Seed Saint Francis Red Flash

Previous Meetings: Jan. 16 SFU 70 RMU 55, Jan. 30 RMU 70 SFU 68

The Red Flash handed the Colonials their largest conference loss of the season in a 70-55 thrashing of Robert Morris. SFU led by as much as 28 points in a game which the Colonials had almost no chance of winning after the first quarter.

But it was that loss that seemed to right the ship for the Colonials. From that point on, RMU finished the season 11-1, launching itself all the way to first place in the conference.

The road to its spectacular finish included a 70-68 win over the Red Flash this time in Loretto. RMU was able to exercise its demons and continue its hot streak, proving to itself and the conference that Robert Morris University can compete with anybody.

How To Win- To beat Saint Francis, Robert Morris needs to overcome its greatest weakness, a struggling perimeter defense.

Robert Morris has the worst perimeter defense in the conference, allowing opponents to shoot 33.4 percent from three-point range. This percentage has the Colonials ranked 277th in the NCAA, while Saint Francis is the best three-point shooting team in the entire country.

The Colonials need to limit shooters such as Jessica Kovatch, Maya Winn, Courtney Zezza and Ace Harrison in order to prevent any sort of early deficit that requires Robert Morris to play out of its typical style of play.

But this is no easy feat. No other team has as many weapons from long range as SFU, and the idea of eliminating all of the Red Flash’s phenomenal shooters is one that may be near impossible for any team to fully accomplish. The best thing RMU can do in this case is simply limit the damage and win a tightly contested match-up.

If Robert Morris can keep the score close and control the pace of the game, it will play into the strong suits of Stamolamprou, Navarro and Smith from long range, while continuing to utilize Nneka Ezeigbo and Mikalah Mulrain in the paint.

The winner of this game will be determined from the first quarter of this potential championship. Whichever team can take control and make the other team adjust to its game plan should come out on top.

Matchup Difficulty 10/10

Robert Morris has complete control of its destiny, as the road to the NEC championship runs through Moon Township. But, it is still a long road ahead for the Robert Morris Colonials, as many top foes will be looking to pull the upset and end the historic first season for NEC Coach of the Year, Charlie Buscaglia. Tournament play starts Sunday, and then the madness truly begins.

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